The collapse of the coal mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district puts the spotlight back on the problematic practice of mining coal without necessary permissions in the state, despite a ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2014.
Stating that “mining is going on”, Hopeful Bamon, a former MLA of the constituency in which the mine is located, said, “Areas such as these are so remote that it is not often possible for the administration or the police to keep checking regularly.”
Krip Chutlet, owner of the mine in Ksan, in Saipung, which collapsed and got flooded, trapping at least 15 workers earlier this month, was arrested by Meghalaya Police a day after the incident but the reported ‘manager’ of the mine, James Sukhlain, is still absconding. Sukhlain was responsible for running the mine and procuring workers.
Superintendent of Police Sylvester Nongtnger told The Indian Express that all efforts are on to nab him.
Among several charges slapped against Chutlet was Section 21(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation & Development) Act, which deals with penalties for mining without permission.
Activists point out that the NGT ban is not only on “rat-hole” mining but includes all “unscientific and illegal” procedure of mining coal, which includes any mining that does not have required clearances and permissions required by the MMDR Act or Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act.
Richard Singh Lyngdoh, member of Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, said, “The land (of the mine) belongs to the area ‘ilaka’ (a term used to describe public land controlled by the community).”
A senior police officer said on the condition of anonymity that the village community often allows any local resident to take ownership of a mine and carry out mining. He said raids are often conducted and culprits apprehended.
In December, civil society groups in Meghalaya submitted a citizens’ report to Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae Colin Gonsalves, which noted that several powerful politicians of the state, or their relatives, are involved in the coal mining business.
Ex-MLA Bamon echoed Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who admitted soon after the mine collapse that “illegal mining” is going on in the state, and promised strict action against those involved. In a media statement, Sangma had said it is not possible for the administration and police to check all illegal mining due to their remote locations.
One primary opposition against the NGT order is that tribal people can do whatever they want with coal reserves, irrespective of national laws, since the state enjoys protection under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. But legal experts point out that the state’s coal reserves are not exempted from national laws because of the Sixth Schedule. The only way for that exemption is through a Presidential notification, and that has not ever been given to Meghalaya.
Experts say the other way to make mining legal is that a state agency is allowed to mine — but even that has not materialised.